Allbirds Makes Further Strides in Sustainable Footwear by Creating a Net Zero Carbon Shoe

Allbirds has set a new standard for itself in terms of sustainability by creating a net zero carbon shoe.

The Moonshot — which Allbirds writes as M0.0NSHOT — is the brand’s shoe with a carbon footprint of 0.0 kg CO2e. The company said this was achieved without relying on offsets.

The shoe, Allbirds co-founder and co-CEO Tim Brown told FN, has been more than two and a half years in the making and is the result of an effort labeled Project Moonshot internally. “It’s the theory being, if we can put a man on the moon, we can make a pair of sneakers with no impact,” Brown said.

Although the exec labeled sustainability as “complicated,” Brown explained the company has chosen to use carbon emissions as a measurement because it is universally understood.

“We label every product with kilograms of carbon that are emitted in production in the same way that calories are on food. Calories don’t represent everything about a healthy diet, nor does carbon [with sustainability], but it’s the one thing that connects me to you, New Zealand to America, the footwear industry to the transport industry, and allows us to compare apples to apples. We believe it’s the future of how we’ll measure impact and inform consumers to make better decisions,” Brown said.

Since its market debut in 2016, Allbirds has worked on systematically reducing carbon in its business and products, which includes the creation of its carbon negative SweetFoam material in 2018, followed by the introduction of labels for carbon footprints in 2019.

However, it was the partnership with Adidas in 2020 and their shared goal of creating the lowest carbon footprint ever recorded for a sport performance shoe that informed the Moonshot.

“We partnered with Adidas on a low carbon project that came out about a year and a half ago, and we landed at 2.94 kilograms, which is tremendous credit to them. They opened the kimono on everything that they do and we did the same, and we worked together and landed at 2.94, which is about half the carbon footprint of a hamburger. It was a really important moment and our team came away from that thinking, ‘We could go a little further here,’ and thought about what would it take to truly make like a net zero impact product,” Brown said.

With that in mind, its cross-functional innovation team — referred to internally as the Allbirds Futures Team — created the Moonshot.

“The biggest champions of this methodology are the designers and the creatives,” Brown said. “They view it through the lens of desire and of creativity. I look at this process, I see how it’s playing out and I see the designers championing this and I feel like there’s a pretty strong window into the future here.”

The Moonshot will be produced with several carbon-negative materials and compounds, such as uppers made with regenerative merino wool grown on Lake Hawea Station in New Zealand, as well as the brand’s newly developed, sugarcane-based SuperLight Foam featuring 80% bio content. Also, the shoes will come with bioplastic eyelets made alongside renewable bioproducts company Mango Materials. Together, they created a process that uses microorganisms to convert methane into a polymer that can be molded like other plastics without the corresponding carbon footprint.

In terms of how customers will receive the shoes, Allbirds said it has created its most carbon-efficient packaging to date, made with sugarcane-derived, carbon negative Green PE, as well as a carbon-conscious transportation plan with biofuel-powered ocean shipping and electric trucking from port to warehouse.

What’s more, the Moonshot was also made with cost effectiveness and scalability in mind.

“The farm we’re sourcing the wool from for this particular product release, it’s part of a network of over 200 farms that represent 15% of New Zealand’s agricultural land,” Brown said. “These farmers are signing on to be a part of this program because they see the future — they can make more money and they can also have an impact.”

For now, the look of the shoe is still under wraps. Allbirds is only showing a teaser image of the Moonshot until it is revealed in June at the Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen. At that time, Brown said Allbirds will have a limited number of samples available with a wider commercial release set for early 2024.

Allbirds Moonshot design board
A look at the Allbirds Moonshot design board.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Allbirds

Beyond the Moonshot, Allbirds said it is pioneering a new method of quantifying a product’s carbon footprint, in partnership with Lake Hawea Station and the sheep industry-focused New Zealand Merino Company. This quantification, Allbirds explained, accounts for materials and processes that capture carbon, as well as those that emit, to provide a more holistic view of emissions. With this, the company said a more accurate picture of a product’s climate impact could be painted.

Also, Allbirds will open-source the toolkit that led to the creation of the Moonshot for others in the industry to use.

“When you talk designer to designer or founder to founder or creative to creative, there’s always the sense of people building on the past and of standing on each other’s shoulders. I very rarely, if ever, run into the sort of the sense of, ‘Hey, I have all the answers,'” Brown said. “Also at the end of the day, brands want to win, it’s competitive, but the Adi partnership was a pretty powerful example of going further together than you could individually. We haven’t done very much, quite honestly, in the partnership space and I think this is a huge opportunity for us moving forward.”

At the Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen, Brown said Allbirds will announce the first of what it hopes to be a series of “prominent and powerful partnerships” around the Moonshot with other brands that can “take the kit apart” and “interpret it and create their own version of what Moonshot should be.”

“There are a lot of elements to the story, and it’s bigger than just Allbirds,” Brown said. “We hope that in the future, the creative piece of this will be catalyzed by a bunch of other brands. This is important to the fashion and footwear industries, which make a lot of promises but don’t always have a clear path of how they’re going to deliver on them. I also think the fashion industry has been beat up with the idea that consuming is bad. It can be and there are some things that it should do better, but it is trying hard and it’s possible to make these products with less impact. That’s the future of this.”

Today’s announcement from Allbirds comes at a challenging time for the brand. The company fell short of full-year sales and profit targets, this month reporting a net revenue increase for full year 2022 of 7.3% to $297.8 million over the same period last year. This was short of its projections between $305 million and $315 million.

Speaking with FN at the top of the month, Allbirds co-founder and co-CEO Joey Zwillinger outlined a transformation plan engineered to “re-energize the business with an emphasis on profitable growth.” The plan, according to Zwillinger, includes reigniting the product line, transitioning its footwear production to a new manufacturing partner in Vietnam, moving toward a distributorship model in international markets and put the brakes on the brand’s retail rollout.

Additional financial reporting contributed by Shoshy Ciment. 

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